More and more companies are offering eco-friendly and biodegradable options. Put less plastic in the landfill without sacrificing the health of your garden.

By Jenny Krane
April 16, 2019
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We use more plastic in the garden than we likely realize: Every plant from a nursery comes in a disposable plastic pot, has plastic plant tags, or comes in plastic seed trays. For the most part, you’re done with labels and nursery pots after one growing season (especially with annuals). So, you throw them away and get a whole new set of pots and labels the next year. This practice can make an impact on the environment: It’s estimated that a single plastic pot will take 500 years to fully decompose. With a little forethought, there are plenty of ways to reduce the amount of plastic you use in the garden.

1. Change to Wood Labels

Instead of using plastic plant labels in the garden, opt for wood plant markers instead. You can buy a set from garden stores or just use crafts sticks from the craft store and write on them with a permanent marker. They're biodegradable but don’t break down too quickly so you can reuse them for a few years.

2. Use Biodegradable or Reusable Pots

Find small pots for seed starting or container gardening that will break down after you’re done using them. Peat pots last a few months and can be planted right into the soil. They break down quickly and won’t add any harmful additives to the soil, either. Eco-friendly pots made from bamboo or wood chips will also last a few years before breaking down in the soil—add those to your compost heap when you’re done using them. You can also make your own biodegradable pots out of newspaper or paper towel rolls. Some nurseries are switching over to biodegradable pots, while others encourage you to return your plastic pots to the store so they can be reused.

3. Start From Seed

Avoid the plastic pot debacle altogether and start your plants from seed. Most seeds come in paper packets that can be recycled or thrown into your compost pile. You can germinate seeds in reusable or biodegradable trays, then plant them in the ground once they are established. If you are saving seeds from your own garden, keep them in tightly sealed glass jars.

4. Buy Soil and Mulch in Bulk

If you have a shed where you can store extra mulch and soil, buy these materials in bulk instead of buying dozens of smaller bags. Most types of soil, mulch, and compost come in plastic bags that have nowhere to go but into the garbage once you’ve used their contents. By buying in bulk or looking for types that come in paper bags, you can reduce the amount of plastic going in the landfill. Also, check your local recycling or parks and recreation center: Oftentimes, cities offer free mulch from cut-down trees (with no packaging!).

Credit: Jason Reeves Garden 2016

5. Use Metal Watering Cans

While plastic watering cans are cheaper, they're not always guaranteed to be recyclable. Plus, they're more likely to crack and break over time while metal watering cans will last. You’re always going to need a watering can for places the hose can't reach, so it’s worth investing in an option that will last longer.

6. Make Your Own Repellents

After going through a bottle of pest repellent, you’re left with an empty plastic bottle. If you make your own repellent for mosquitoes or deer, you use one spray bottle over and over instead of buying a new one each growing season. You’re not eliminating your plastic use, but you’re lessening it.

Even if you can’t completely eliminate your use of plastic in the garden, you can lower the amount you’re putting in the landfill. When you’re looking for garden supplies this season, do some research—if there’s a biodegradable or recyclable option, take it. Mother Nature will thank you.


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